The opinion of the court was delivered by: GARY SHARPE, Magistrate Judge Page 2
Ethel Colon alleges that bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis
in her neck and knees have disabled her, and challenges the denial of
disability benefits by the Commissioner of Social Security. Having
reviewed the administrative record, the court concludes that the
Commissioner's decision was based on substantial evidence, and affirms.
After Colon filed for disability benefits in August 1997, her
application was denied, and a hearing was conducted by Administrative Law
Judge Joachim Volhard (ALJ). A vocational expert (VE), William Armani,
testified at a supplemental hearing. In January 1999, the ALJ issued a
decision denying benefits which became the Commissioner's final
determination when the Appeals Council denied review on February 8, 2000.
On April 10, 2000, Colon brought this action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of the Commissioner's final determination.
The Commissioner then filed an answer and certified administrative
transcript, Colon filed a brief, and the Commissioner responded.
Colon contends that the Commissioner's decision is unsupported by
substantial evidence, and erroneous as a matter of law. Specifically, she
maintains that contrary to the testimony of the vocational expert: (i)
she is physically incapable of working as a video surveillance monitor;
(ii) such positions do not exist in the regional economy; and (iii) 100
such positions do not constitute a "significant number" in the regional
economy. She also argues that the ALJ erred when he failed to conclude
that she was "disabled" due to "significant erosion" of her "occupational
The Commissioner counters that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
decision because he properly relied on the VE, including testimony about
the existence of a significant number of jobs in the national economy.
Colon was forty-seven years old at the time of the ALJ's decision, and
has an eleventh-grade education. (Tr. 64, 84). From 1988 to July 21,
1997,*fn1 she worked as a parts assembler and welder at a medical
equipment manufacturing facility. (Tr. 84). The job required her to stand
for about eight hours, walk for one hour, frequently bend,
constantly reach, and frequently lift, push, and pull boxes weighing
approximately ten pounds. (Tr. 85).
In her SSA disability report, she asserted disability because of "burrs
in the neck, arthritis in the neck . . . carp[al] tunnel in both hands
[and] arthritis in [her] knees." (Tr. 80-85). She complained of daily
fatigue and wrist and neck pain. Later, she stated that she needed the
assistance of her husband and daughter while shopping, cooking, and
cleaning. (Tr. 90-94). She also stated that she experienced wrist pain
when writing, pushing, or pulling, that she needed to change positions
frequently due to constant neck pain, and that her symptoms had
progressively deteriorated. (Tr. 93, 96-97).
1. Michael Tan. M.D. (orthopedic surgeon)
Dr. Tan, Colon's treating orthopedic surgeon, diagnosed her with frozen
shoulder syndrome and early carpal tunnel syndrome in 1991. (Tr. 200). In
1994, he performed carpal tunnel release on her hands. (Tr. 92, 201). In
1996, he diagnosed her with degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine, and continued his diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome.
In 1998, Dr. Tan completed a medical assessment report, and estimated
that Colon could lift and carry a maximum of twenty pounds, and ten
pounds occasionally or frequently. (Tr. 178). He indicated that the
impairments did not affect her ability to stand, walk, and sit. (Tr.
179). He found that she could frequently climb and balance, and
occasionally stoop, crouch, and kneel. (Tr. 179). However, he found she
could not crawl, since "forward flexion is markedly affected by neck
discomfort." (Tr. 179).
Noting neck stiffness extending into the base of the neck, shoulders
and arms, Dr. Tan found that Colon's reaching, handling, feeling, and
pushing/pulling functions were affected by her recurring symptoms of
bilateral carpal tunnel, and diagnostic evidence of cervical disc
degeneration. (Tr. 180-81). He also found that her impairments caused
environmental restrictions, including temperature extremes, humidity, and
vibration. (Tr. 180). He opined that Colon "cannot perform her usual
highly repetitive assembly work, which in addition requires repetitive
neck, head and eye movements." (Tr. 181).
2. Joel Amidon, D. O. (osteopath, Rome Medical
In October 1997, the Rome Medical Group assessed Colon with
degenerative joint disease of the cervical spine and post-release carpal
tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 98-101). A month later, Dr. Amidon, an osteopath in
the Group, indicated that Colon had been complaining of "severe neck
pain, upper back pain, and pain that goes into her hands bilaterally,"
symptoms which were exacerbated when she turned her head, moved, or
sneezed. (Tr. 160). An MRI was negative, and he recommended "vigorous
physical therapy" to treat her symptoms, caused "probably [by] some
ligamentous strain." (Tr. 157). A Social Services assessment indicated
that Colon was able to lift, carry, push/pull a maximum often ...